Who is Winning the Brand Advocates vs. Influencers Debate?


Share on LinkedIn

Many organizations are including influencer marketing initiatives into their marketing strategies.

In fact, Linqia, in its The Value of Influencer Content 2017 report, cites that 86% of marketers use influencer marketing to add more power to their content marketing engines.

The belief is that influencers, with their huge networks, can get people to visit a website and convert them into a sale.

But, that’s not reality.

Influencers are driven by growing their audience. They are not driven by promoting a brand or its products. And, as such, influencers drive awareness, not specific actions or more importantly, behaviors.

Brand Advocates, on the other hand, can be a satisfied employee, customer, or vendor and they recommend because they had a great experience and they want to help others have that same great experience.

Brand advocates love you, are loyal to you and want to help you help others. Not only do they humanize your brand, they can usually help you do a much better job at customer conversion than any marketing tactic you could conceive. Advocates can drive behaviors.

Jay Baer wrote a post about this, and Zuberance and Convince & Convert put together the below infographic a few years ago on the differences between influencers and brand advocates.


Three things that stand out for me in the infographic are consumer trust – 18% trust influencers, while 92% trust brand advocates – duration of loyalty – short term for influencers vs. long term for brand advocates, and motivation – influencers are focused on growing their audience while advocates are focused on helping those that they know.

Trust has been at issue lately regarding Influencer Marketing.

Because Influencer Marketing is viewed as a “pay for play” initiative (brands must compensate influencers in some way for promoting their brands and products), that has left a bad taste in some brands’ mouths in using influencer marketing at all. In addition, influencer marketing has somewhat of a black eye as of late thanks to some greedy influencers.

This greediness has garnered the attention of the FTC, so now influencers and brands must disclose the relationship.

Influence isn’t bad. We all want influence. We all strive to be influential.

Influence is defined as “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development of behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself”.

There it is again. Behavior.

The million dollar question for us, marketers, is how do we influence a customer or potential customer’s behavior?

The answer to the Brand Advocates vs. Influencers debate is not to pick one over the other. Rather, the better plan is to merge the two.

To do this, we need to define what effective influencer marketing should look like.


Why is influencer marketing important to you? How will it impact the customer experience and your corporate strategy?

Influencer Marketing must align with (1) what your customers expect and what would enhance their experience, and (2) your corporate strategy.

If you want to do influencer marketing just to do it, or because everyone else you know is doing it, then you will fall flat and be unsuccessful.

Influencer Marketing is still in its infancy and there are still debates going on about what influencer marketing is and what it entails.

Do your research by reading content produced by leaders in the influence marketing space such as Traackr. Review case studies of brands in your industry who have achieved successes in influencer marketing.

And, go a step further, by interviewing them as well. When asking questions, use the STAR approach:

-what was the situation or reason that the brand used influencer marketing?
-what was the specific task that was involved?
-what actions or steps took place?
-what was the result of using influencer marketing?

Be clear and realistic about what influencer marketing is and what you expect to get out of it. Really laser-focus in on its value. Be realistic on context and content.

Don’t think vanity metrics, such as likes or followers. Think engagement.

Thus, it is paramount to create an entire influencer marketing strategy. Be detailed and specific. Answer the what’s, why’s, and how’s.


Pick the influencers that your audience trusts, who influence your audience. But, remember, influencers are an extension of your brand.

Thus, it has to be the right relationships.

Influencer Marketing is all about relationships.

This is where merging influencer marketing with brand advocacy can generate strong results.

Rather than using a plethora of social influence tools right out of the gate to find influencers that you have no relationship with, look at your brand advocates – your employees, customers, vendors or fans that you do have relationships with. And don’t forget journalists, bloggers and analysts that you already have relationships with.

These folks already love you.

Determine which of these brand advocates strongly align with your corporate strategy. Then, determine their influence. I love tools such as Brand24, Followerwonk and BuzzSumo to identify and measure influencers.

Implementing influencer marketing this way is more effective. And, it guards against false positives that can result from inaccurate social proofing.


I propose a new term, advocate-influencers. Your brand already has them. Start with what you have and build from there. This is a wonderful way to merge advocate and influencer marketing.

An entire strategy is vital to effective advocate-influencer marketing. However, don’t create it in a vacuum.

While it is important to understand the value an influencer marketing program would be for your organization, it is equally important to understand the value your influencer marketing program would be to influencers.

Answer such questions as: What new audiences can you help them reach? What purpose or causes inspire both your community and theirs? Who is speaking and writing about topics that align with your main focus areas?

Successful influencer marketing is a two-way street.

Consider establishing an advocate-influencer council.

Get your advocate-influencer team in a room to collaborate on strategy development. This is a great way to build even stronger relationships with your advocate-influencers.

And, collaborate on tactical development as well. Determine where it makes sense to co-create and even where you give advocate-influencers complete content creative control.

Create the strategy and associated tactics together with your advocate-influencers. They will get a viewpoint of your inner workings, and you’ll get to walk in their shoes. This will help with the requests you make of the influencers. They’ll understand the context of the ask – and how it fits on a micro and macro level with your operation, and how they will benefit.

Always be open to new ideas and out-of-the-box execution.

Sometimes an answer to a question isn’t either or, but both. Using the right influencers and brand advocates together gives marketers the best means to influence behaviors.

Sue Duris
Sue Duris is Director of Marketing and Customer Experience of M4 Communications, a Palo Alto, CA-based strategic marketing and customer experience consultancy that helps early and mid-stage startups, nonprofits and edtech firms build and grow their brands. She writes and speaks often on marketing and customer experience topics.


  1. Excellent post Sue!

    I was seriously impressed with Evernote circa 2009-2013.

    They transformed many of the influencers they worked with into brand advocates, in addition, they opened a brand evangelist program that is up and running I think to this day. In that program, they kept close contact with their evangelists, rewarded them, told them inside news and even created events in which they celebrate everything Evernote + of course showed their appreciation to the influencers/evangelists.

    It was really cool, I even considered becoming one myself, but never did connect to the product that much 🙂

  2. Hi Haim:

    Thank you so much for your comments!

    Advocacy is very important. Yet, many companies don’t have a formal advocacy program or enable their loyal customers to advocate for them. If they knew Advocacy’s ROI is better than any marketing ROI, and how important it is to corporate growth, companies would put some type of advocacy program in immediately!



Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here